Mixed feelings: What happened when we put my Disney planning into action
If you read my previous post, you know that, at one time, I was extremely hesitant to plan a family vacation to Disney World. What I didn’t tell you is that once I got over my initial reluctance, I jumped head first into Disney planning and owned the process like a
pro champ crazy person.
A large chunk of the craziness came from making sure everyone was wearing Disney-suitable attire. No, I’m not referring to dressing appropriately for the Florida weather. I’m talking about coordinating, Disney-themed shirts for the whole family and a super fabulous Tangled dress for me to wear on my birthday.
Thanks to the resources I mentioned in my last piece, I felt like my family and I were well prepared for our travels, which began Oct. 3. We would be celebrating Vincent’s first birthday and also my birthday during our trip. Flying for two hours with a 1-year-old in my lap was not my favorite activity, but he nursed and slept part of the way. I got to drink Diet Dr. Pepper – for the last time in eight days, I might add – so the flight was bearable. We arrived in Orlando and made our way to Disney’s free shuttle service, called Magical Express. We got right on our bus and didn’t have to wait long until we were moving. During our ride, I got a message telling me that our room was ready and what our room number was.
When we got to the Contemporary, an Orlando for Families staff member was waiting for us at the entrance with our rental stroller. We found our room in the Garden Wing, which is a separate building adjacent to the main Contemporary tower. The Garden Wing is slightly cheaper than the main building, so I wondered if staying there would add significantly more walking. Now, obviously we’ve never stayed in the main building, so I have nothing with which to compare or contrast, but being in the Garden Wing did not bother me at all. In fact, we rather liked it. We were on the first floor, so we had a little patio, a view of Bay Lake and easy access to the pool. I feel like the walk to the Garden Wing took just as much time as it would’ve to wait for the elevator and walk to a room in the main building.
My overall impression of the Contemporary? Average. Although the Contemporary is considered one of Disney’s deluxe resorts, I didn’t find there to be anything “lux” about it. It just felt like a standard hotel to me. Nothing luxurious, and it didn’t really have a Disney feel. I don’t have anything bad to say about it – well, except that I hated the bathroom sinks; they were large and flat and left hardly any room for counter space. All that said, we would stay at the Contemporary again for the location. It was so convenient to be walking distance to Magic Kingdom and have easy access to the monorail to go to Epcot.
Before I go any farther, I feel like I should put a bit of a disclaimer on this post. Please remember that this was our first time staying at a Disney resort and going to the parks as a family. I am only one person, and it is highly likely that others will disagree with me. I’m perfectly OK with that. If you’re planning a Disney trip, you can take what I write about my experiences as suggestions, or you can completely ignore all my opinions. I would like to think that my insight will be helpful to some Disney newbies, but please know that if you choose to book a restaurant based on my recommendation, for example, and have a terrible experience, I’m really sorry. Crowd levels, cast members, weather, kids’ moods (well parents’ moods, too) and other park attendees can completely change the experience.
OK, with that out of the way, allow me to give you the rundown of our Disney trip.
- On our arrival day, after exploring the hotel briefly, we all donned our Mickey and Minnie shirts and walked to Chef Mickey’s for Vincent’s birthday dinner. Located on the fourth floor of the Contemporary’s main building, Chef Mickey’s is a buffet-style restaurant that features the “Fab Five” of Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto. Among Disney moms, Chef Mickey’s tends to get mixed reviews. For us, it was pretty much everything I heard and read — very loud with mediocre food for a hefty price tag. However, everyone left with full bellies, and the big kids had fun dancing and meeting characters. We celebrated with a Mickey Mouse cake I had ordered from Disney Dining, which, as it turns out, was really not necessary because there were about 384 desserts at the buffet. Oh well. Vincent loved it anyway.
- Our first park day was Epcot. This also coincided with my birthday. I had initially planned for us to go to Magic Kingdom for our first park day because it is usually regarded as the most quintessentially Disney of all the parks. However, Epcot was featuring Early Magic Hours, or EMH if you’re Disney, that morning, so we opted to go there. In our case, EMH meant that Epcot opened to Disney resort guests at 8 a.m., rather than the typical 9 a.m. If there was one tip I learned from the Unofficial Guide book, it was to take advantage of EMH, and, even though getting up early kind of stinks, I would have to agree. We didn’t quite make it into the park by 8, but we still walked right onto the coveted Frozen Ever After ride by 8:30. It’s such a cute ride, and we all got to witness Vincent’s newfound love for Olaf – adorable! Next we met Anna and Elsa, then headed to Test Track to use our first FastPass. For any ride that has a height requirement, Disney offers rider swap, which means that one parent rides with the child(ren) who are tall enough, while the other parent waits with the non-rider(s). Then, they swap, and the waiting parent rides. One benefit of this is that the children who meet the height requirement can ride more than once. Elliot got to ride quite a few attractions twice! C.C. could’ve, but she scares easily and often opted out the second time. However, something I did not understand ahead of time is how long it takes to use rider swap, even with FPs. I should’ve taken C.C. and Vincent to do something else while we waited for Mike and Elliot to finish Test Track, so that was a lesson learned for me. We actually missed our next FastPass because of how long it took to do Test Track twice with rider swap. Plus, we had to get to Trattoria al Forno at the Boardwalk resort for our Bon Voyage Breakfast reservation. With an 11:25 time slot, it was breakfast food for lunch, and, if you know my family, you know no one was complaining about that. The characters usually include Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, Ariel and Prince Eric. As far as I know, this is the only place to meet Flynn and Eric, but Flynn was busy in the forest with Maximus that day, so Merida came all the way from Scotland to take his place. The food was delicious, and we loved the character interaction! It was our favorite character meal. Here’s a newbie tip: If you want to go to the Bon Voyage Breakfast, try to reserve it on a day you plan to be in Epcot or Hollywood Studios (HS), or go on a non-park day. The restaurant is not far from the World Showcase entrance of Epcot, so it was totally walkable for us. And I’ve heard the Boardwalk is walking distance to HS. After lunch, we tried to explore some of World Showcase, but it was quite crowded because of the Food and Wine Festival. We headed back over to Future World to hit some other attractions, including Soarin’, which was amazing! We ended up leaving about 4:30 because everyone was hot and tired and grouchy. I left feeling disappointed because we didn’t even use two of our three FastPasses, and I abandoned the touring plan I had created for the day. We ate dinner at the hotel’s Contempo Cafe, relaxed, swam and regrouped for the next day.
- Our second park day was Magic Kingdom. Again, Early Magic Hours! We were on Main Street before 8 a.m. and got pictures in front of the castle. I didn’t realize this, but we quickly learned only Tomorrowland and Fantasyland were available for EMH. I had planned to rope drop Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMR) in Frontierland, so we changed plans and went straight to Space Mountain instead. We were able to hit a few attractions in Fantasyland before going to Splash Mountain to use our first FP. Thanks to the Disney moms Facebook group, I knew there was a play area at the Splash Mountain exit, and it was awesome for C.C. and Vincent during the rider swap down time. We explored Adventureland and used our FP for Jungle Cruise, which I adored — so punny! Vincent fell asleep during the Enchanted Tiki Room, and then it was time for C.C. to go to her Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique appointment. It was a great experience for her. They did a nice job with her makeover, and she was thrilled with her Cinderella look! Next was lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table, the restaurant in the castle. Our reservation was at 1:10, but we were still waiting to be seated at 1:35, so we asked why. I could tell by the cast member’s expression that she was also surprised we were still waiting. A coordinator came to talk to us and apologized. Our name was called next, and we got to our table. The service was good, and we liked the food. C.C. loved seeing all the princesses! The coordinator came to our table and apologized again and gave us a multi-experience FP, which worked out well because we got to use it on BTMR. We rode a couple more rides and used our FP for Peter Pan’s Flight, which is known for having a long standby wait. We left the park for a rest/swim break and got ready for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP), which is a ticketed event at MK, separate from the day’s regular admission price. We dressed in matching Incredibles shirts with black bottoms. I had planned to use black face paint to create the signature Incredibles masks, but that just felt like too much after a busy day already. I did, however, make Vincent’s hair look like Jack Jack’s, and he totally rocked it. During the party, the big kids got candy at designated trick-or-treat stations. We rode some rides with relatively short wait times, ate a lackluster quick service dinner and watched the “Boo to You” parade. Despite some unique characters like Jack Skellington and his girl Sally, we chose not to wait for any character meets. C.C. and I would’ve enjoyed meeting Moana, but I had heard the wait time was very long. My overall impression of the Halloween party was “meh.” This could partly be because I’m not a huge fan of Halloween in general. Another reason is because of our schedule. I had already booked BBB and CRT before I realized it was an MNSSHP day. I didn’t want to reschedule those reservations, so we just decided we’d power through. Even with the afternoon break, we left the party right after the parade, which was over about 9:30. I’m not sure we’ll ever want to go to the party again, but if we do, we will definitely make sure our morning/afternoon are rest times. I have to admit, after our first two park days, I felt like a Disney loser. It seemed as though none of my planning was paying off.
- The next day we went to Magic Kingdom again, which was a wise choice because there is so much to see and do there. We slept in a little and got in the park about 9:30. We took our time walking to Be Our Guest for our 10 a.m. breakfast reservation. It was neat to see the Beast’s castle, and everyone liked the food. Next we used our FP for Enchanted Tales with Belle, an interactive experience, and C.C. played Mrs. Potts. She was so happy to meet Belle, her favorite Disney princess. Mike and the big kids rode Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with FP, but it broke down right as Elliot and I were supposed to ride. They gave us a multi-experience FP to return later or ride something else. We used our last planned FP for Journey of the Little Mermaid, which ended up being one of my faves! I love Ariel! We did some more attractions, ate a Dole Whip and went back to the hotel for a rest/swim break. We returned to MK, ate yummy hot dogs at Casey’s Corner and tried to fit in everything we hadn’t done yet. I think the only things we missed at MK were the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which was broken down when we attempted it, Haunted Mansion and meeting Elena of Avalor. Looking back, that was the day we got into a groove and started to really enjoy Disney. One reason: We made better use of our FastPasses. Because the FPs come in one-hour blocks, it’s hard to use them back to back. I mean, it could work if you have FPs for, say, Splash Mountain from 9:30-10:30 and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad from 10:30-11:30. If you arrive at Splash at 10:15, you will be totally fine to hop on BTMR with FP immediately after. They are basically right next to each other. But if you make the mistake of arriving at Splash right at 9:30, you will have to kill time between the FPs or ask a cast member to let you use your second FP early. Both possible but not ideal if you want to be as efficient as possible with your collective time. I think my particular challenge with FPs has to do with being a newbie. Despite studying the park maps, I found it very difficult to choose FPs 60 days ahead of time. It’s hard to know how long it will take to walk from attraction to attraction. Anyway, like I said, we got better, and if we go to Disney again, it will be tremendously easier to book and use FPs next time.
- For our fourth park day, we went to Epcot again. From what I can tell, planning two days at Epcot is rare. Several people encouraged me to go to Animal Kingdom instead, but I’m glad we stuck with Epcot. Remember – we had cut our first Epcot day short, and I felt like there is so much to see there, especially if you want to really explore World Showcase. That day we slept in again and arrived at Epcot about 11 a.m. It was a popular time to enter because of the Food and Wine Festival, but Future World was not too crowded. Mike and Elliot rode Mission Space Orange while I took the younger two to Innoventions. We started through World Showcase in Mexico with the goal of eating and drinking as much as we could; we called that lunch! We found some tasty stuff, and we met Mulan in China, where C.C. enthusiastically practiced the Chinese she’s learned at school. One of the day’s highlights for me was meeting Mary Poppins in the United Kingdom. She never broke character, asking Mike and me if we needed a nanny and offering to introduce her friend Bert to Elliot and C.C., so they could all do chalk art together. Since everyone loved the Frozen ride the first day, we headed back over to Norway to ride it again, this time with FP. We managed to do the boat ride in the Mexico pavilion before it started pouring – miraculously, the first time it rained during our trip! We were close to the baby care center, so we ran there. Vincent needed to nurse and get a clean diaper anyway, and that allowed everyone time to poncho up, as they say in Florida. Here’s another tip for moms of littles: Use the baby care centers. They are so nice! I loved the air conditioning, rocking chairs and changing tables. As is typical in Florida, the rain didn’t last long, so we started making our way back over to Italy for our dinner reservation at Via Napoli. The salad, bread and pizza were delicious, and the sangria was amazing! Interestingly enough, this was everyone’s favorite meal. We may just skip character meals next time – ha! After dinner, we met Joy, Sadness and Baymax, and we rode Spaceship Earth with FP on our way out. Even with two days dedicated to Epcot, I know there are things we missed. I believe we hit all the Future World attractions, but there is so much to see in the individual pavilions at World Showcase. I would actually like to go back during the Food and Wine Festival, just Mike and me – no kids!
- OK, last park day: Hollywood Studios. This was our first time using the Disney bus transportation. Not surprisingly, it leaves much to be desired, especially after we were spoiled by walking to MK and monorailing to Epcot. Aside from waiting for the buses to arrive, the biggest downfall is space. There are seats, but the buses get so full that many people end up standing. I don’t mean to be negative; it was not horrible. We got to where we needed to be, and we started the day with the Disney Junior Play ‘n Dine character breakfast at Hollywood and Vine. For me, this was comparable to Chef Mickey’s. Not as loud, but the buffet food was about the same quality. The kids met Goofy, Vampirina, Sofia and Doc McStuffins. We explored the Star Wars Launch Bay and met BB-8, then went to Toy Story Land for our Toy Story Mania FP. The ride was only partially operational, so the FP line was an hour. They gave us a multi-experience FP because of the long line, but we choose to stay and ride. Elliot and I wanted to ride Slinky Dog Dash, but with an 80-minute standby wait, we decided it wasn’t worth it. We had Star Wars stuff to see and do! We met Kylo Ren, who was rather intimidating; Chewbacca, who loved Vincent; and the Stormtroopers. We also rode Star Tours with our multi-experience FP, and it was one of my favorites. Mike and Elliot did Hollywood Terror Hotel and Rock ‘n Roller Coaster with FPs, while I took the younger ones to the Beauty and the Beast show. We were supposed to see the Frozen Sing-a-Long too, but C.C. said she didn’t want to see anymore shows. I was kind of sad, but we did get to meet Olaf. We left around 5:30 and went back to the hotel. We decided to take the boat from the Contemporary to check out neighboring Wilderness Lodge. We ate quick service dinner there and walked around. It was the perfect ending to our last park day.
- On the day we checked out of the Contemporary, we took the bus to Disney Springs, where we shopped and ate lunch. It was OK; the biggest highlight was seeing the huge Disney-themed LEGO displays.
I was going to debrief the whole Disney experience, but I decided to give you a break and split my reflections and takeaways into a separate post. I wasn’t kidding – Disney is its own world. As they say in the movie previews, more coming soon!